January 29, 2010 05:30:55am
I Now Know the Name and More
These were "Pete Smith Specialties." Believe it or not, I googled on "Smith" and comedy, and I found this:
Pete Smith (born Peter Schmidt September 4, 1892, New York City - January 12, 1979, Santa Monica, California) was a film producer and narrator of "short subject" films from 1931 to 1955.
Smith was a publicist at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who was recruited to overdub the actions of trained dogs in the studio's "Dogville" comedies. Smith's speaking voice was distinctively nasal, and he would go on to narrate the studio's sports reels. Smith would embellish the action by running certain scenes in reverse or adding his own pungent commentary. Both the studio and the moviegoing public picked up on Smith's flair for comedy, and soon he had his own series, Pete Smith Specialties.
Smith made more than 150 shorts, almost all of which were comedy documentaries. They were made as filler material for MGM's cinema exhibition packages, which typically consisted of a feature film, a B-movie or a serial, plus one or two "short subjects" of various types, such as animated cartoons, newsreels and documentaries. The Smith shorts were typically 9 to 11 minutes long, shot in black-and-white, with many of the laughs generated by the highly ironic voice-over narration delivered by Smith himself. (His somewhat nasal, matter-of-fact idiosyncratic vocal style has been imitated and parodied by many.)
The subject matter of the individual films was enormously diverse. Among the topics Smith cast his affectionate but jaundiced eye upon were: Emily Post-style household hints, insect life seen through a microscope, military training and hardware (during World War II), and dancing lessons. There were even several "series-within-the-series", such as lighthearted general-knowledge quizzes, professional football highlights (in the days before widespread television), quirky looks at many different kinds of animals (for example, Donkey Baseball and Social Sea Lions), and "Goofy Movies" (playing antique silent dramas for laughs). Smith narrated a patriotic short for the U.S. Government, The Tree In a Test Tube (1943), filmed in color, featuring Laurel and Hardy in a demonstration of household wood products, with Smith explaining the various exhibits for the viewer.
In the 1940s movie stuntman and actor Dave O'Brien became the primary focus of Pete Smith Specialties. The hapless O'Brien would personify everyday nuisances: dealing with pests at the movies, demonstrating pet peeves, tackling hazardous home-improvement projects, and other problems with which the audience could identify. O'Brien's scenes were shot silent, compelling O'Brien to express his satisfaction or frustration entirely in visual terms as narrator Smith offered get-a-load-of-this commentary. O'Brien knew the format so well that he also directed many of the shorts, under the name "David Barclay." He staged many of the sight gags himself, taking stupendous pratfalls for the camera.
The Pete Smith Specialities, instantly recognizable and highly popular in their day, are nowadays rarely seen, being almost completely unavailable on video or DVD. They occasionally appear between feature films on Turner Classic Movies.
Smith retired in 1954 (his last films were released in 1955). His last years were spent in a Santa Monica, California nursing home where, despondent over his failing health, he committed suicide on January 12, 1979 by jumping from the nursing home roof.
I'd give credit for this bio, however I just found it uncredited on a chat page.